Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Proposition 37.1- A Good Next Step

In the shadow of Proposition 37's defeat maybe we can have a real conversation.  Angry, uninformed discussion based on fear mongering from both sides detracted from a real issue-- how do we provide complete information about food in a manner consistent with science?

Throughout the discussion scientists and corporate officials stated repeatedly that labeling is not the problem-- Proposition 37 was the problem.  A potentially complex and expensive bureaucratic web would be created to police foodstuffs that have no inherent dangers.  That's just nuts.

At this time I think everyone in interested in this issue should coalesce around balancing two concepts in complete fairness-- information and science.

Could a voluntary, science-based approach actually work ? 
**** No Ballot Box Needed! ****
Start the ball rolling!  Copy these onto permanent sticky paper
 and go deface something!

Can we as scientists take the initiative to persuade companies to begin voluntary labeling?  Can we ask them to label items in the ingredient lists as "transgenic soy" etc?   This remedy is a great solution because it is honest, scientifically precise, provides the information prop37 advocates want, and is not inflammatory.

Most of all, it stops the nonsensical restructuring of a scientifically bankrupt proposition into something worse.  Companies will voluntarily label on their terms, not those handed down from angry mobs that deal in fear.

No new bureaucracy, no costs to consumers, no target on products, no divisive activist wedge.  It is honest and accurate.  It would engender a spirit of goodwill and understanding, something this discussion desperately needs.

Most of all it is an opportunity for all of us to rally around transparency and information.  From there we can all build trust and make better decisions.

Let's start this conversation.


Anonymous said...

You are clearly a shill for the natural and organic food companies. How much did Mercola pay you?

Kevin M. Folta said...

Mercola didn't pay me anything. You know that's true because he's probably feeling a little lean-on-the-green at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Bugger off

Anonymous said...

You have demonstrated what is wrong with science and industry Kevin. The people want this. Why can't you support democracy instead of catering to a lying industry? Do you have any idea what those companies said to Californians? These companies are the lowest of the low. They would off their own grandmother to make money. Do you really want to be aligned with them? Well now you are. What you should have done is to support labeling and then educate. But instead you aligned your self with unethical companies who care more about money than any thing else. This says a lot about you and your interest.

Ewan R said...

"The people want this."

Thats rather odd, because your post is timestamped 7th november, 1 day after the people voted that no, actually, we don't want this.

Kevin - I think the blog might be broken!

PythagoreanCrank said...


Thanks for your continue efforts to be constructive and positive. I like the sentiment and it's one Anastasia similarly proposed in her post: Toward a better agriculture… for everyone.

I campaigned aggressively against Prop37 but now that it's defeated I don't feel like I won. Instead I gained the knowledge that there is much work to be done for science and critical thinking. I hope this is a wakeup call for the need for more proactive advocates (like yourself).

Kevin M. Folta said...

Anonymous, I don't think you can tell me who I'm aligned with. The legislation was awful and not science based. That is the basis for my decisions.

It so happens that the corporations have the science right and you have the science wrong. That is why I "agree" with them, and disagree with you.

My plea here is to stop what you are doing by being divisive and come up with a creative solution that everyone can live with.

A win-win.

D Trefethen said...

Dear Kevin,

If I read you correctly, you are FOR labeling GMOs but not in the "warning" type way promulgated by California's Prop 37. Further, you believe that this labeling should be voluntary. While I applaud your support for labeling GMOs, I seriously doubt that the Big Ag firms will voluntarily label their GMO foods.

I was born in 1942. I could be wrong but I do not remember foods being labeled. We could guess that Wheaties where made from wheat and Skippy Peanut Butter from peanuts, but that was about it. There was nothing on the Skippy label to tell us if there were other ingredients in the peanut butter. There is today. How did that happen? Did the manufactures start clamoring for voluntary labeling of ingredients? No. The US government forced labeling on the companies who fought it tooth and nail.

And what of GMO foods? I am intelligent, well-read, follow the news. Still, it was not until this year that I became aware of the fact that most of the corn sold in the US is genetically modified. If one such as myself had no idea this was happening, how would someone less aware have realized this? For decades, the default in stores was non-GMO for the simple reason that GMOs did not exist. If we'd all been at the switch 20 years ago, we'd have insisted that GMO labels be affixed from the get-go. But we didn't. Slowly GMO foods began infiltrating our grocery shelves and no one was informed about this invasion. Today, how much of our corn, including fresh ears in the produce departments, is GMO? 70%? 80%? More? And this happened because we consumers, not being told what was happening, assumed that if there were no labels, no "warnings", that all the corn we were purchasing was just like it was last year and last decade and last century. How were we to know otherwise? If the companies processing GMOs were as "honest - fair - precise - compatible with science" as you would like to think, wouldn't they have said SOMETHING? A little, tiny word of "transparency" to the wise? But they did not.

Re: the science. As a scientist, you know that industry-based studies are always more favorable in their assessments of the studied product than are independent studies. They are especially kind when the company making the product is the sole source of funds for the studies. Furthermore, you also know that there is a lot of "grey science" (much of it manufacturer-funded) that is promulgated as reliable and impartial. The truth is that if it were truly impartial, the science would have been submitted for peer review. Of course, if it had been, then it wouldn't be "grey". Thus much of the science supporting the safety of GMOs is not peer reviewed AND it relies on the discredited "substantially equivalent" standard. Note that human and gorilla DNA is "substantially equivalent", differing by only 1.75%.* Fortunately that 1.75% includes several external attributes so that when walking down the street, if we encounter a gorilla, we can tell. UNFORTUNATELY, the DNA differences between GMO corn and non-GMO corn are not as obvious.

Because manufacturers that produce GMO foods have no financial incentive to label and a lot of financial incentive NOT to label, doing so voluntarily is not going to happen. To suggest otherwise is either naive or disingenuous. So if YOU truly believe that "labeling is not the problem", I suggest you forget voluntary and design an initiative for a labeling program that embodies your idea of honest, fair and compatible with science. If the companies that spent over $46 million to defeat Prop 37 truly are not opposed to labeling, they will whole-heartedly support YOUR fair and honest labeling effort. However, if I were you, I wouldn't count on that.


Anonymous said...

So you are saying that 61 countries got it wrong? That labeling all over the world is a mistake, not backed science? You are so full of yourself, close minded, and a fool. Yes, 90% of people want gmos labeled but they believed the lies your side told them about costs and lawsuits etc. These will be labeled on day Kevin et al. Just wait and see.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Anonymous. Yes 61 other countries label. About the same number adhere to Muslim religious beliefs. Does that mean we need to adopt their beliefs here, be they labeling or religious?

Anti-GMO movement is a religion. Not found on evidence.

I am not close-minded. Show me a good piece of evidence of harm- something reproduced in two labs independently. I'm open to your evidence, but it has to be beyond opinion.

And please settle the name calling. Let's elevate the discussion now that you've lost on this horrible initiative. How do we get it done right?

Adam Retchless said...

I think the relevant precedent is with the labeling of rBGH in milk production. These labels are now common, but Monsanto and state regulators fought them.

Ena Valikov said...

Hi Kevin.

>>Show me a good piece of evidence of harm- something reproduced in two labs independently.<<

What in your education prepared you to evaluate medical evidence? Harm by GMOs is MEDICAL harm. Please show me what your level of medical understanding of bilirubinuria and bilirubinemia is... then, I'll have something to show you.

Ena Valikov said...

The other item I'll need you to show me is your level of understanding of a urinalysis.

Ena Valikov said...

Patient: GATITA
Species: FELINE
Breed: DSH
Gender: FEMALE
Age: 12Y
Date: 11/07/2012
Requisition #: 2610789
Accession #: L1545695
Ordered by:

Account #5461

Test Result Reference Range
Low Normal High
PH 6.0
WBC 0-2 0 - 5 HPF
RBC 0-2 0 - 5 HPF

Is this normal, Kevin? What does this test, done for minimal amount of money on a teaspoon of pee, tell a medical doctor about this 12yr old cat?

Adam Retchless said...

Ena, it is sometimes possible to detect bad science even when one is not expert in a particular field of study. Some things are universal. For instance, it is not possible to do a good test of a hypothesis based on a single observation.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Ena, I don't need to be an expert in urinalysis in a world full of experts in urinalysis. If transgenic food is causing a problem related to metabolism that is resulting in aberrant numbers on analysis:

1. Why does nobody report it?

2. Why does nobody demonstrate a mechanism?

3. Why is this not the cover of Science and Nature?

You are trying to paint me into a corner. You know I don't claim to be an expert in everything, because I'm not! But I can read, I do read, I understand hypothesis testing and statistics.

I do not recall that there is published evidence of physiological problems directly attributable to transgenic food. Please provide a link to a real study and others that have replicated it.

No Seralini allowed. Thanks.

Ena Valikov said...

You are absolutely correct. Which is the reason that does not reassure me that these rats did not develop nephropathy and hepatobiliary disease after eating MON 603 for 13 weeks.
A single data point....without a baseline, unaccounted rats and absent test results ( urinalysis among them).

The cat in question has a BUN of 53 and creatinine of 2.2. It considered to be IRIS stage II,
which is actually pretty good, because the cat is not yet suffering too badly.

It will die of chronic interstitial nephritis ( renal failure) within two years- of the most common cause of feline death.

It will go through bouts of nausea, lose her appetite and weight. The owner will be calling on a weekly basis trying to figure out what to get the cat to eat, as it develops GI ulcers from the progressive azotemia become more and more anemic until it looks like a furry skeleton.

I've told thousands of sobbing clients over my career that their family member's kidneys scarred due to old age.

Except that the explanation is intellectually dishonest because in the vast majority of cases the etiology is unknown.

How do I, as a veterinarian, determine that it isn't lifelong exposure to MON603 in this cat's food based on the above safety assurance study?

Ena Valikov said...

Kevin... please cite One study on MON603 in cats or dogs.

And then perform this thought experiment: imagine I am not a veterinarian... I am a pediatrician dealing with a horrid disease the etiology of which is unknown, which just might be associated with food?

Kevin M. Folta said...

Dear Treheften,

Thanks for your very thoughtful note and significant time on the subject. A few notes:

Your 3rd paragraph makes the influx of transgenics seem like a secret conspiracy. Flavr Savr was labeled as GMO. The other stuff was not and I understand why. As a plant biologist and someone close to breeding, a transgenic plant is a minor, minor, minor genetic alteration that does minimal (if any) change to the plant cell outside its intention. There's no need to differentiate it due to the process it was developed by.

I will disagree with you in the next paragraph. You assertion is basically that all science is not trustworthy because of a sponsor. I find that really problematic and even a little offensive. To suggest that all scientists are sellouts to the point where all of them KNOW of harm and conspire to not report it, that's quite an allegation, quite a conspiracy.

Three points of reasoning reinforce my thoughts here.

1. We live in a litigious society. People have sued corporations for coffee being hot-- you know that if anyone had an illness related to these products, just one, the lawsuits would fall like rain. There is a TREMENDOUS incentive for companies to be massively rigorous in assessing safety of any product, especially food. Nobody is going to cover up a real problem.

2. There are at least 350 independent tests that show no evidence of harm. I think it would be poor form to assert that all of these scientists are ethically bankrupt and trying to placate a corporation that has no funding or ties to the project.

3. I'm currently performing sponsored research for a company (not related to GM, etc). They chose my lab because we are the experts in the area and we will provide the best results. My future funding from them is 100% tied to giving them the CORRECT answer, not the answer they want to hear. If I lie to them, omit or alter data, or otherwise bend a story to try to fit their corporate goals, then I'll never, ever get funding again from them or anyone else. They want the correct answer-- even if it is not what they want to hear.

Plus, those that produce fake science ALWAYS get found out, especially in controversial areas. Anyone can get transgenic seeds and do the experiments.

The human-gorilla analogy is a non-sequitur. We know that the transgene adds one gene into 30-100,000. We know what it encodes, where it is expressed, what collateral changes occur in plant cells. These are minor alterations that do not even alter plant cells or gene expression (outside of the gene itself of course).

Companies are opposed to labeling by mandate for several reasons. First, to force development of a new government agency to watchdog products that are not harmful (in addition to the FDA, EPA and USDA APHIS that already regulate them) gives the impression of some inherent danger-- which there is none to date.

The other problem is that activists are lying and misleading now without the labels. Imagine how they could instill fear against quality food if they could put a big red skull and crossbones on 70% of grocery products that are not harmful!

Companies are only against labeling because of the anti-scientists that are against biotech. It cost a pretty penny to keep the labels off of textbooks that didn't have a creationist slant to discussion of evolution.

The folks of Alabama came together to "Just Label It" and put a label on textbooks because they didn't like the science.


Kevin M. Folta said...

(from previous)

It is anti-scientific, a lie, but argued as a "right to know" and "teaching the controversy". It creates a false dichotomy where there really is not one.

My point is simple. Rather than collecting signatures, putting stuff on ballots, costing a fortune to promote it, costing a fortune to defend against it, etc.... why can't a label simply voluntarily present the truth?

If it was labeled as "transgenic" would anti-GMO activists accept that? I don't think so!

This is why my point is good here. Let's talk about how to get voluntary labeling.

The best line I said to someone over the phone I had to stop and write down--

"Don't tell me it can't be done, tell me how you are going to help me do it"

Anyone can trash an idea, but it takes some good thinking and energy to make a concept go. That's what I'm trying to foster here rather than wasting more time on angry mob mentality like Prop37. Again, thanks.

Ena Valikov said...

There are at least 350 independent tests that show no evidence of harm.

Which of these 350 are blinded controlled feeding trials with several data points consisting of a complete biochemistry, hematology, and a urinalysis....meeting basic medical standards?

Please post links to the individual studies, Kevin. I'd like to judge the evidence for myself. It is how genuine science works.

Ena Valikov said...

I wrote this one partly for you, Kevin.
It might explain bilirubinuria and bilirubinemia a little better. The histopathological findings described in rat livers, for whom bilirubin is only reported for 22/80 look similar to the liver of these cats. Please look over the ingredients in his food.

Thanks, and have a great weekend!

DebbieC said...

Dr. Valikov,

If the vet who wrote the following blog linked below is to be believed, Science Diet does extensive feeding trials. Is there any reason not to trust this vet or the trials SD is running? Are all industry trials too biased to be trusted? If GM corn and soy were causing disease in pets, wouldn't SD be seeing disease in the feeding trials?

Has there been an uptick in enlarged liver, allergies, and hyperbilirubinemia cases in cats and other pets since the advent of GM food use? Is that the only food your patient was eating and can you be sure? How is a consumer owned by a cat ever to know which claim is valid? Thanks.

Why I Still Stand by Science Diet: Because Corn in NOT a Bad Thing…..
by Dr. Carla Case-McCorvey...
on Fri, 05/13/2011 - 7:28am

“The second fact that deserves attention is that most of the popular diets with marketing campaigns critical of their competition (Blue Buffalo, etc) don’t bother to enlist food trials. Science Diet performs formal feeding trials according to AAFCO regulation prior to the release of any of their products. This is the preferred method (Gold Standard) when testing a food product. An ingredient list means nothing if the ingredients are not actually absorbed and used effectively by the body. There are two AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) certifications and most pet food companies do not bother to spend the time and money required to attain the more stringent of the two. This is the one that requires feeding trials and the one that makes certain that their food really performs as well as they claim it does for the life of your pet.

Using AAFCO protocols, feeding trials document how well an animal performs when fed a specific food. Feeding trials allow a pet food such as Science Diet to claim that the product is “clinically proven” which means so much more than a list of ingredients on a bag. The feeding trial also minimizes recall risks as any new formula is actually tested before going to market and reaching the end user, your pet.”

Ena Valikov said...

Hi Debbie C. You are asking good questions.

The AAFCO feeding trials which are the " gold standard" of testing pet foods ( to be contrasted with a computerized composition analysis) have much in common with the 90 day safety assurance studies on GMOs.
1. They are 26 weeks in duration.
If one goes with the commonly accepted assumption that the life-span of an average domesticated cat is 15yrs, that is 1/30th of a cat's life-span. I submit, this is too short of a period of time to see anything, but gross deficiencies/ gross excesses.
2. Up to 25% of the cats/dogs enrolled can be removed (get sick or die)
3. The criteria is that the subjects lose more than 25% of their weight during the trial. If you read the blog on Vinnie, you will notice he was overweight, as are over 1/3 of our pets; paralleling the obesity epidemic in people.
4. The testing parameters are so minimal( albumin, alkaline phosphatase, PCV), as to be useless at assessing the pet's health.

There are no epidemiological studies, I am aware of, evaluating trends in prevalence of hepatic lipidosis, allergies, and other chronic illnesses before and after introduction of GMOs. To make matters more interesting, most veterinarians are not aware ( prop 37 noitwithstanding) about existence of GMOs in most pet foods. There has not been a single article in any of the veterinary scientific journals / trade magazines about them. Needless to say, there have been zero studies comparing cats and dogs eating GMOs and non-GMOs.
And to make things even more interesting, veterinarians' nutritional education when I was in school was underwritten by Hills Science Diet...we studied nutrition from textbook written & published by Hills ( today a subsidiary of Colgate Palmolive, I believe).

Results of a 90-day safety assurance study with rats fed grain
from corn rootworm-protected corn
B. Hammond a,*, J. Lemen a, R. Dudek a, D. Ward a, C. Jiang a, M. Nemeth a, J. Burns

Table 7.
Liver Vacuolization 17 20 18 20
(see the cytology picture on my blog for a visual of what this looks like in animals, as well as people with NAFLD/ steatosis)
Bile duct, inflammation, chronic 6 10 5 6 (had I harvested a liver biopsy from Vinnie, you might see that, as well).

Thanks for your interest Debbie C.